Leah came home on Friday (17th January) and as I said previously she was laid out in her blue formal dress in a white coffin with pale pink satin trim.
Her coffin was open in her bedroom. Surrounding her coffin on the bed were items symbolizing the different aspects and stages of her life.
These included her Girl’s Brigade hoodie and armband, her L.O.S.T. polo shirt, her school tie, items associated with Ballykelly C.O.I. Banter, her Baby Books and various photo collages.
Her pink fairy lights adorned the top of her bed and her Spotify playlist played softly in the background.
Many hundreds visited our house to pay their respects.
Visitors to our house included family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues, friends of friends, tradesmen who had worked on the house or supplied materials, the staff of Leah’s Primary & Secondary schools & people from the various youth organisations she was involved with and representatives of Sinn Fein, SDLP, & DUP – we have always encouraged our children to respect everyone’s cultural backgrounds & everyone was very welcome.
An army of women manned the kitchen and served tea, sandwiches & traybakes (cakes and biscuits, mostly homemade) to every visitor. Sandwiches, cakes, biscuits, home baking, milk, tea bags all miraculously appeared in the kitchen thanks to the kindness of friends, family and neighbours.
Soup, stew and other more substantial meals were also provided for us. Neighbours erected temporary signs giving directions to the wake and offering their driveways for “wake parking” – one of the many lovely things about rural Ireland is how everyone pulls together in a crisis.
On the Sunday morning family members gathered in Leah’s room for a time of reflection & prayer before the coffin was closed.
Neighbours & friends gathered outside the house. Then the men of the family including Nic took it in turns to carry Leah’s coffin to the road and we walked a short distance behind the hearse.
When we had driven to the main road the police (PSNI) were there ready to stop the traffic & stood to salute as the hearse pulled out into the traffic.
At Kilfennan Presbyterian Church an estimated 1,100 -1,200 gathered for the final farewell. The Girls Brigade Company had formed a Guard of Honour outside the church.
Members of the congregation had worked hard to set up relay systems outside and in overflow rooms and everything was done to perfection.
Funerals aren’t meant to be beautiful but Leah’s funeral service was beautiful – everyone says it was such a fitting tribute to who she was.
Terry Smith our church organist played the first hymn – the extended Smith family have been a great source of support to us on this journey.
The remaining music was played by “Under Construction” of which Leah’s cousin Peter is a member – Leah loved hearing them play. They were absolutely brilliant.
Rev Rob Craig, then present Moderator of the Presbyterian Church gave the address, he has known Leah from birth and everything he said reflected who she was.
After the committal at Ballyoan Cemetery, everyone was invited back to the church hall where another army of women served tea, a finger buffet and home baking (including gluten-free) to hundreds of people.
Horace and I got a chance to speak to a lot of people but unfortunately, we couldn’t get around everyone.
I would like to introduce you to yet another song that Leah and I listened to a lot, especially in Bristol.
You may ask “How come you listened to so much music?” The past 9 months have contained a lot of waiting, lot of “hanging about” and a lot of being away from home.
When Leah was well enough she used a lot of this time to study for her GCSEs, but there were many times when neither of us could barely concentrate to read or watch TV and that just leaves silence.
Sometimes silence is good – when it’s a peaceful stillness. However, when you are virtually living on a Children’s Cancer Ward and your child is unwell and everyone else’s child is unwell, silence can become a vacuum into which unwelcome thoughts crowd.
In Bristol, during those times when no words were left, I would get into Leah’s hospital bed and cuddle up beside her and this song always seemed to soothe us: “Oceans” by Hillsong
“Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now”